An Evolution in My Approach to Practicing

A piece of wisdom handed down from my music teachers, but applicable to any craft in which we seek improvement, is that it is far better to practice for fifteen minutes every day than to practice for half an hour once every two days, or 45 minutes once every three days, etc.

In the realm of golf, a problem most of us run into with respect to practicing is that practicing golf is an ordeal. We have to go to the practice range, and a trip to the range involves getting in the car. Let's face it, in the midst of all the other things we do in our daily lives, making a daily trip to the practice range is too much of a hassle. Furthermore, any time we go to the range, we're going to go for long enough to make the trip worthwhile. We're not going to make the drive for 15 minutes of quick practice. All of which means that on any given day, we're unlikely to practice.

We want to get better, and the only way to get better is by practicing, but practicing is a hassle, so we don't practice. It seems like we have a bit of a conundrum, doesn't it?

A few weeks ago, I started a different approach to practicing golf: most mornings, I go to my local park and practice there. Now, before I go on, let me be clear: practicing in a park raises a couple of important issues, namely safety and protecting the park. Regarding the former, I only practice with real golf balls when I'm chipping--there just isn't enough velocity on the ball to hurt anyone, and I'm not going to hit a shot so awry that anyone's going to be in harm's way. When I take full swings, I use light foam balls--they're light enough that I don't think they'd hurt even if you were standing right in front of one, and obviously I'm not going to hit one at someone directly in front of me. About the latter, because I too would be aggrieved if anyone went to my neighborhood park and tore up the grass, I only hit from a practice mat I put on the sidewalk.

I start my sessions with chipping. I set a bucket out in the grass to use as my target. In the short time I've been doing this, I've already seen myself improve. I rarely drain one into the bucket, but my grouping around the bucket is getting tighter and tighter. My aim and execution have both dramatically improved.

Afterward, I'll hit some full-swing shots. Little by little, I'm working with longer and longer clubs. I'm seeing some improvement. Clubs that I couldn't hit at all a few weeks ago, I'm sometimes able to hit.

As an added benefit, I'm seeing my improvements come much more quickly. Let's say my limit before frustration sets in is 10 six-irons. Let's say it takes five sessions of those ten balls, paying close attention and making tweaks, before I see any improvement. If I'm practicing only once a week, it takes more than a month before I see myself improve. If I'm practicing daily, it takes only five days.

I also play with things in a way that I wouldn't at the range. It's hard for me to go to the range and feel like I can take half swings, or intentionally mishit shots to learn what that swing feels like in my body. Yes, a ball at my local range only costs ten cents, but it still feels wrong to "waste" balls doing anything less than full swings that I'm trying to hit as well as possible. But at the park, if I'm trying, for example, to understand what it is I do to create that ugly push-slice I tend to hit, I can work on doing it intentionally, and it doesn't feel like I'm wasting anything.

I'm also noticing that my ability to solve golfing problems has improved. Earlier this week, Jerry and I went to the chipping green, and we were practicing a shot from some really deep grass, and I was not succeeding with my shot. I got a little frustrated but I stuck with it and tried to figure out what I needed to do to hit the shot successfully, and by the third or fourth go-round practicing that shot, I was seeing my shots improve.

Now that I've been doing this for a few weeks, I am coming strongly to believe that a major part of the reason that most of us don't see our golf games improve is that, even for the few of us who actually practice, we don't practice often enough to get better at practicing itself. By practicing every day, I'm giving myself space to play with how I enter the practice mindset, to play with how I warm-up, and to play with the order of shots that I practice. In short, while I'm practicing, I'm also practicing practicing. My practice sessions themselves are getting more effective.

As I'm seeing the benefits in my own game that this change in approach is bringing, I'm discovering a mission for myself: I want to encourage people to bring to find a way to make practicing less of a big deal, so that we do it more, so that we improve, so that we have more fun.

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